Undervalued Spotlight #229

Detective_Comics_17Detective Comics #17, DC Comics, (July 1938)

Comic books have spawned some of the greatest characters in fiction. Just look how much other media have tapped this nursery of character development that comic books are.

The most valuable comics are always the highest graded copies of the first appearances of culturally significant characters like Archie and Batman.

While it’s true that comic books have given the world a lot of great things it is by no means just one way traffic. From the beginning comic books have tapped into other media. Books, poems, video games, film, TV shows, theatre and real life dramas have all successfully been adapted into comic books. The comic book format lends well to telling a great story and in the end that’s what it’s all about.

Just off the top of my hear I’ll name Scooby Doo, Conan, Star Wars, Tarzan, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Doctor Who as properties successfully adapted by comics.

These adaptations into comics can bring good value too; ever try getting a deal on a high grade Gold Key Scooby Doo #1, a Conan #1 or the grand daddy of them all a Journey Into Mystery #83 (Thor)? So the first comic book appearances of characters that premiered in other media should never be discounted as stores of value.

Pardon the long-winded preamble but I’m hoping it will help my argument as I present this week’s Undervalued Spotlight, Detective Comics #17.

Pre-Batman Detectives command a reverence that often exceeds their content. Their allure is legendary, serious well seasoned collectors turn to mush when coming across quality copies of these books.

Detective Comics #17 is the one pre Batman Detective I feel gets nowhere near the attention it deserves. In Detective Comics #17 we get the comic book debut of the villain Dr. Fu Manchu. The character appeared as a feature through to Detective Comics #28, these stories were reprints from the strips produced for Bell Syndicate in the early 1930s.

Granted comics are a visual media and it seems Detective Comics #18 with that classic Fu Manchu cover has been getting more than its share. In a situation like this I always ask which book would you rather have the Pep Comics #22 or the Archie Comics #1? Pep #22 of course introduces Archie in a hidden away 6 page back up story while Archie #1 has Mr. Andrews front and centre on the cover. I will say that I really do like the Creig Flessel cover to Detective Comics #17!

British writer Sax Rohmer originally introduced Fu Manchu in the 1913 novel The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu. The character struck a cord and became one of the main arch types of the evil Oriental mastermind.

And while Alan Moore used Dr. Fu Manchu in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I’m more intrigued by Marvel’s use of Fu Manchu in their 1970s series Shang Chi Master of Kung Fu. Marvel retained the rights to the Fu Manchu character through a corporate acquisition, or at least they thought they had the rights. Anyway they were sure enough that they wrote in Dr. Fu Manchu as Shang Chi’s father.

Shang Chi’s first appearance in Special Marvel #15 has been heating up in the recent speculative boom and by extension all characters associated with Chang Chi are now suspect. Dr. Fu Manchu is a tricky one though because I read that the rights have reverted back to the Rohmer estate.

Every collection needs at least one pre Batman Detective! Be smart, make it one that is a lot more than just a pre Batman Detective.

The 44th edition of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide shows $2850/$5225/$7363/9500 as the 6.0/8.0/9.0/9.2 price splits.

Strengths that make this comic book a good long-term investment are:

  • First comic book appearance of Dr. Fu Manchu
  • Pre Batman Detective

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.

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Darren Graham
Darren Graham
9 years ago

Wow, this cover is gorgeous. Great viewpoint on media-crossover characters. I find it to be a sticky grey area… for example, people are paying a lot for a Boba Fett’s first appearance in Marvel’s 70s Star Wars, I have no idea if it’s justifiable or not.

I’ll add one more to your list… The Shadow. Pulp radio broadcasts for 10 years before you saw him in comic strips or comic books. I wonder if there would have been a Batman without this influence.

Solid pick Walter!

9 years ago

Walter, I get the sense you’re deliberately omitted Thor from your list. It’s okay if you’re not a fan but if greatness ever gets measured by longevity… I think we have our answer. Not to mention, according to People Magazine, Thor is the sexiest man alive:


But only because you and I never filled out the entry forms…

We need the pre-spandex books in order to complete the picture. As a time capsule, they offer another dimension to the study and appreciation of culture. But I wish they were more affordable.

9 years ago

Oops… my apologies. I skimmed right over that part.

Walt, are you familiar with Mighty Midget Comics? I picked up this little pocket size gem from our good friend Mike recently:


The printing is similar to the Canadian Whites you showed me and it’s awfully well preserved for a book from 1943. I’m not sure that it has any value but I really love how it looks and feels.